John Skipper cited a yearslong “substance addiction” in announcing his sudden, unexpected resignation as ESPN president in December, declining to elaborate further in the email he sent to the network’s employees. But in an interview with ESPN authority Jim Miller published Thursday by the Hollywood Reporter, Skipper admitted that he has been a longtime yet casual user of cocaine and said he decided to resign after a person who had sold him the drug threatened to extort him in December.
“They threatened me, and I understood immediately that threat put me and my family at risk, and this exposure would put my professional life at risk as well,” Skipper told Miller. “I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then when I discussed it with [Bob Iger, president of ESPN parent company Disney], he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign.”
Skipper, 62, said he never used cocaine while he was on the clock at ESPN, nor did he ever use the drug with a fellow employee. In fact, he called his cocaine use “quite infrequent,” a byproduct of him growing up “wanting to be countercultural.” Since his resignation, Skipper has received therapy and treatment and has not used the drug “for a long period of time.”
“I never allowed it to interfere with my work, other than a missed plane and a few canceled morning appointments. I’ve never been a daily user. My use over the past two decades has, in fact, been quite infrequent,” he said. “I judge that I did a very good job and that it did not get in the way of my work. I worked hard, I worked smart. I worked all the time.”
On Dec. 13, a Wednesday, Skipper addressed a large gathering of ESPN employees, expressing confidence about the network’s future after a rocky few years. Two days later, he decided to reveal the extortion plot to Iger. The following Monday, he announced his resignation, admitting that he had put Iger “in an untenable position.”
“Look, it was inappropriate for the president of ESPN and an officer of The Walt Disney Co. to be associated in any way with any of this,” Skipper said. “I do want to make it clear, however, that anything I did in this regard, and anything else resulting from this, was a personal problem. My drug use never had any professional repercussions, but I still have profound regret. I accept that the consequences of my actions are my responsibility and have been appropriate. I also have to accept that I used very poor judgment.”
Skipper said he had learned to become “a master of compartmentalization” to hide his cocaine use from friends, family and co-workers and that he was “careful” in his pursuit of the drug. But the person who threatened to extort was not someone Skipper had had dealings with in the past.
“It turned out I wasn’t careful this time,” he said.